COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

Betting wildlife in a poker game with the Grim Reaper

While Donna Tisdale and others slow the deployment of desperately needed large-scale wind and solar renewable energy systems in San Diego and Imperial County by using the courts in order to sue, delay and sometimes achieve financial settlements, we find a less cynical awakening among those genuinely concerned for people and wildlife.

Recent reports related to global warming, along with highly visible and undeniably extended droughts, have made clear that the wild world is going to be devastated if we incur further delays in aggressive, large-scale and rapid deployment of the technology needed to transform our energy and transportation systems in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, in a new report by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) entitled “Wildlife in a Warming World” we are offered the following observation in the executive summary: “Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by 7 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife.”

The National Wildlife Federation’s answer: “This means rapidly deploying clean, renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal and sustainable bioenergy, while curbing the use of dirty energy reserves.”

The National Wildlife Federation also cogently observes: “as we begin to see whole ecosystems transform before our very eyes, it is clear that we have no time to waste.”

Against this background of well-reasoned urgency, a few blithely hopeful environmental groups offer the entirely fanciful notion that solar-on-rooftop and conservation is all that is needed. This slow-walk rationale and justification has given rise to rampant opposition to the deployment or construction of vitally necessary large-scale projects in San Diego and Imperial County, not to mention, elsewhere throughout the nation.

As these renewable energy and transmission projects slowly wend their way through an astonishingly cumbersome regulatory and public review process, followed by challenges and litigation, they sit unconstructed or idle, thus sustaining the status quo which is only making matters worse. Every day of delay has real and enduring consequences.

NWF suggests the use “currently untapped, underutilized and wildlife-friendly clean energy sources such as offshore wind, distributed renewable generation, energy efficient buildings, and sustainable transportation options.”

Despite an uneasy awareness of the logistical and timing demands imposed upon the deployment of renewable energy systems, NWF offers the following “smart energy” conception that “ensure[s] assessment of the resulting wildlife, water, land, and climate impacts, guided by upfront planning, and maximize opportunities to reinvest revenue to [address] impacts to communities and natural resources.” The Siren call of ancillary objectives and extensive studies remains almost irresistible.

By its very nature, deployment -- even at large-scale -- of wind and solar PV renewable energy sources are necessarily distributed. To be truly useful, they must be properly aggregated, managed and capable of dispatch in large amounts. They must be situated where the wind blows and the sun shines intensely. This fundamental reality requires large, well-controlled renewable energy facilities, adequate energy storage systems, and transmission links. Sadly, due to its inherent intermittency, at relatively modest levels of deployment, residential-rooftop solar PV renders the electrical distribution grid vulnerable to collapse, and thus cannot take us as far as we must go.

Our system of environmental study, review and challenge has created perverse incentives, and for those who are more interested in a particular special interest or just plain money, it has encouraged many to come to the table, hands outstretched, as they hold all of us hostage.

It is fundamentally necessary that California state and national policymakers drastically cut down on the time required for processing the paperwork needed to deploy large-scale wind, geothermal and solar projects. We need some basic rules and a clear path. We need to purposefully pare down CEQA, NEPA and other requirements to a minimum. Nothing else will get us where we need to go in the time allotted. We will not get a second chance to meet the challenge of global warming.

Indeed, if that practical approach is not adopted almost immediately, the unspoken and horrific consequences to wildlife everywhere, and then for us all, is well beyond our ordinary imaginations to conjure. What we blithely refer to as global warming, might better be understood as global warming with local roasting.

As we toy with puny efforts to avert further global warming, the harsh truth is we are figuratively sitting across a poker table from the classically garbed Grim Reaper. We’re bluffing, but through willful self-delusion we think we’re somehow unbeatable and time is on our side. Our only question: how much should we bet? Shall it be our entire fortune, our lives, our civilization, the wild world, or the whole planet? The Grim Reaper can and will take all bets.

A key unspoken rule of poker: don’t bluff, bet or play with the Grim Reaper.

Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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